This is a thought that came to me as something of a epiphany, although I'm not sure it's quite as profound as that suggests. But it's been enough to challenge me - to shake me up a little and make me realise there's so much more to the life I'm called to live than I'm sometimes willing to acknowledge.
It all came from a really basic observation of a routine act, a few weeks ago, in the middle of wedding season. We were waiting for the bride to come into the church - friends reunited, catching up in between those intermittent hushes that happen when someone wrongly senses the arrival is imminent. A friend took a quick picture with her husband on her phone. From the pew behind her, I watched her review it, adjusting it with lightning efficiency - a slight crop, the addition of a particular filter - before uploading it to social media. The whole process took seconds, a few gentle tweaks making it possible to present their best-self to the world.
Listening to the sermon about half an hour later, I realised that's what love does. It shelters us, saving us from having our worst exposed and instead drawing out the good in us - promoting that worthier version of who we are and have the potential to be. Love is aware of all that is unfavourable in us, but chooses to emphasise the good instead. That's a wonderful thing to experience, to receive.
But it's a costly, demanding thing to give.
"Love covers over a multitude of sins." It requires a certain tactfulness, a kindly reticence and a giving up of vindication. "Love keeps no record of wrongs." It feels them, but it internalises the cost of those wrongs - it doesn't make the offender pay. "Love believes the best", reaching past irritation and personal perspective to embrace and bear with those little weakness and idiosyncrasies that point to brokenness and imperfection and come from God-only knows where; love tries to understand.
To be seen through the eyes of love is possibly the most liberating thing we can offer each other. And to see through the eyes of love is an art - the highest, eternal craft. Maybe the hardest thing we can attempt. That's why we celebrate weddings with the fan-fare that we do. But as right as that surely is, as momentous as the choice to get married is, it's only one dimension of the call to love. And, in my experience, probably the easiest. A loving marriage is, in some ways, self-sustaining: assisted by emotion, helped along by reciprocity, mutual self-interest, common giving and receiving; I love and am loved.
Much harder to love in fleeting interactions, or difficult acquaintances, or fringe friendships. It's much harder to try and make the effort to see everyone in their best light, always. Much harder to treat people according to who they can be, not just who they are, to feel your efforts disappear into the ether of a harsh world and not know how or if they will find their way back to you.
Harder but truer. A little closer to the love God loves us with. A little something of the way of the cross.
It's also hard to see the reality of your small attempts to imitate the heights and depths of real love, and know how far they fall short.
But that's okay. Because Love sees past that.
Love is the ultimate filter.